It was reported earlier that the Singapore government’s education subsidy for foreign students studying at the local tertiary institutions under the free Tuition Grant Scheme (TGS) is now causing a dilemma for the students (‘Free tertiary Tuition Grant Scheme provided by govt to foreign students backfires‘).
Foreign students, depending on the university courses they studied, can get as much as $100,000 subsidy each from the Singapore government. In return, they would need to work in any firms in Singapore for a period of 3 years.
However, due to the coronavirus pandemic as well as the recent tightening of criteria to hire foreign graduates by the Manpower Ministry (MOM), many of the recent foreign graduates from the local universities are facing difficulties getting a job here. Yet, they are obligated to “serve” their 3-year bond by working in Singapore so as to “justify” the government’s spending of Singapore’s public money on them.
TODAYonline interviewed some of the recent foreign graduates to highlight their plights in an article published on Sunday (20 Sep).
Foreign student: Ridiculous for us to apply for same work visas as other foreigners
A South Korean graduate from the Yale-NUS College said, “Singapore doesn’t want me it seems, but I can’t look for a job in Korea… If I look for a job elsewhere, I have to pay back a crazy sum of money.”
The South Korean has already sent out more than 200 job applications. Breaking into tears, she added, “This does not make sense at all. The Government should be responsible for us as well.”
She also felt that her four years of education in Yale-NUS College had gone to waste. In her desperation, she started applying for jobs she has no interest in but may stand a higher chance in, such as those requiring proficiency in the Korean language. The dejected Korean girl said, “Industries, companies’ missions and values don’t matter anymore. I am just looking for a company willing to sponsor my visa.”
An NUS foreign graduate who declined to be named said she doesn’t blame employers even as she remains jobless after sending about 75 applications. “It is not their fault that the restrictions are as they are,” she said. She in fact had secured a job in April but only to see the job offer rescinded three weeks later as the firm had “suddenly” rolled out a blanket rule not to sponsor Employment Passes (EP).
Under the new hiring criteria, companies must offer at least $4,500 salary to foreigners in order to apply EPs for them to work here. The NUS foreign student added that the authorities “should either create a different and a streamlined track for tuition grant scheme students to apply for work passes or scrap the bond”.
Mr Wang, a foreign student who graduated from NUS recently said he had waited for a month before he was informed by MOM that his EP application was rejected. He then spent another month appealing against the outcome before it was approved.
He complained, “It is ridiculous that we have to apply for the same visas as other foreigners to begin with. They are people who don’t need to be here… They can theoretically not come. We don’t have the choice but we have to compete with them, essentially.”
Others wanted to know why MOM has been delaying or rejecting their work pass applications, even when they managed to secure a job. They wanted to know why this is so when they are being tied to their bonds at the same time. They thought they should be exempted from the current onerous process of getting their work pass approved since they are obligated to work here.
Canned response from MOM and NUS
In response to media queries, MOM said it is “cognisant” that foreign students have to fulfil their tuition grant obligations and is “actively monitoring the situation”. It added that it “will exercise flexibility where necessary” when processing work pass applications.
“Tuition grant bond recipients who require assistance if they have issues fulfilling their bond requirements should reach out to their IHLs (universities) for support,” it said.
And NUS said that it supports its graduates by providing them “full access to a wide range of recruitment opportunities across industries”.
Graduates who face difficulties finding employment can seek personalised coaching from their career advisors on job searching, interviewing and networking strategies, it added.
Meanwhile, many Singaporean students who can’t get into the local universities or the course they wanted to study have to go overseas to get their degrees, spending much of the hard-earned parents’ monies.